Tamara Chehayeb Makarem is a Lead UX Designer at Scott Logic, a software consultancy. She has been shortlisted in the Outstanding Returner category at the Women in Tech Excellence Awards and will be a panellist on a discussion about ‘Helping returners’ on 22 November at the Women in Tech Festival.
Why is the topic of this panel important to you?
Being a parent brings great personal joy but the career impact of bringing a child into the world falls disproportionately on women. In the main, organisations still have quite a way to go to support women in returning to work, so I think it's important to highlight positive stories and best practices to help drive change and build more supportive workplaces.
Being a mother is not the only thing that defines me, and actually in some ways being a mum has made me better at certain aspects of my job. My decision to return was driven by my enjoyment of work. Maternity leave can be quite a hectic, unstructured time and returning to work provided me with the structure and normality that I missed while I was on leave. It was important to me to stay in the field and continue to build my network and keep my skills up to date. With both of my children, I was on maternity leave for six months. This felt like the perfect amount of time to physically recover and spend time with my newborn, while not being out of the field for too long.
How do you think we can get more women into technology?
IT can be an intimidating sector, not just because it's dominated by men but also due to the misconception that it is an impersonal and ‘robotic' sector to work in. This can drive women away from the sector, so I think there needs to be investment in making it a more inviting and inclusive environment. There are a number of ways this could be done, such as removing some of the technical jargon in the field and highlighting the roles within IT that rely on some of the ‘soft skills' that lots of women naturally tend to have. Overall, changing the perception of the sector in this way could encourage more women to consider a career in tech.
How can we help more women return to work and what can organisations do?
It's important to say from the start that supporting women to return to work is not a one-size-fits-all thing for an organisation; the support they provide can differ based on their size, ranging from informal, individual support all the way up to structured programmes.
The same flexibility should apply to the returner too, with options including phased return, lighter duties and reduced hours. What's important is to create a culture in which the person returning is encouraged to discuss their specific requirements and for the organisation to accommodate them as much as possible. For example, at Scott Logic, I had regular check-ins with HR during my maternity leave to discuss the timing of my return to work and what my needs were.
The other thing that's really important, no matter how big or small the organisation, is to have someone in a mentoring role who can ease your transition back to work. There might be new technologies or new processes to be onboarded onto, or organisational changes that you need to be made aware of; at Scott Logic, we can avail of our Individual Development Budgets to do any additional training we might require. It's also worth noting that as the returning person, your outlook may have changed - for example, you may have new career aspirations that you want to explore. You should schedule a series of meetings with your mentor to create the space and time for these important conversations.
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from a D&I perspective over the last 18 months?
When I went to the Women of Silicon Roundabout Conference, the keynote speaker, Baroness Brady CBE, said something that really resonated with me: "If you don't champion your own career, no one will champion it for you." This struck a chord with me as we need to work really hard in our careers, but also we need to create opportunities for ourselves to progress. In order to reach our full career potential, we have to seek the challenges and opportunities that will lead to our advancement.